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Things to Do in London

Cultured, cosmopolitan, and effortlessly cool, London is a city that needs no introduction. The British capital is not only one of the world’s most visited cities, but it’s also one of the most diverse, and there’s something to suit all tastes. Those looking to discover England’s traditional charms can stroll through Westminster Abbey, watch the Changing the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace, or take a red double-decker bus tour around the city. Art and history lovers can check off famous institutions such as the British Museum and the National Gallery, while foodies can tuck into artisan delicacies at Borough Market, indulge in afternoon tea at the Ritz, and grab dinner on Brick Lane’s Curry Mile. Those with kids in tow can ride the London Eye, pose with celebs at Madame Tussauds, and discover the magic of Harry Potter at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London. Central London boasts a roll call of iconic sights—Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, St. Paul’s Cathedral, London Bridge, the Tower of London, Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden—all within walking distance of the Thames River. Alternatively, a ride on the London Underground will take you to East London’s hip neighborhoods, the pretty waterfront district of Greenwich, or the colorful markets, music venues, and bars of Camden Town. There are also endless options for day trips, including the magnificent Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, the historic cities of Oxford, Cambridge, and Bath, Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, and even Paris.
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Mayfair
47 Tours and Activities

Owing legendary status to its monopoly board incarnation – the most expensive property on the board, no less – Mayfair maintains its reputation as one of Central London’s most affluent districts – it was even the birthplace of Her Majesty the Queen. Stretching between Oxford Street, Piccadilly and Regent Street, and bounded by Hyde Park to the West, the area was named after the May Fair held there during the 17th and 18th centuries.

The district’s principal shopping streets include the world famous Bond Street, home to Balenciaga, Christian Louboutin, Jenny Packham and Marc Jacobs, among others and Saville Row, legendary for its exquisite men’s tailoring.

It’s not just shopping that draws visitors to the streets of Mayfair – there are around 20 art galleries in the area, as well as the Handel House Museum, set inside the former home of the renowned composer, and the Royal Academy of Arts lies on the cusp of Picadilly.

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Knightsbridge
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One of west London’s most affluent districts, just south of Hyde Park, Knightsbridge remains one of the city’s most upmarket shopping areas. While London’s most iconic department store, Harrods, draws in the most visitors, the surrounding area is crammed with flagship British and international designer stores. London based shoe luminaries like Jimmy Choo and Manolo Blahnik are based along the eponymous street; household name fashion house Prada has two stores nearby and the hugely popular department store Harvey Nichols is Harrods’ closest rival. Adjoining Sloane Street’s shop list reads like a fashion show itinerary with Christian Dior, Chanel, Gucci, Armani, Alberta Ferretti and Nicole Fahri, just some of the famous names. It’s not all about shopping, though – the area is also has many chic bars, pricey restaurants and swanky hair and beauty salons.
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London City Hall
13 Tours and Activities

Opening its doors back in 2002, the glass-fronted, semi-spherical London City Hall marked a new dawn of London’s governance, providing a sleek, modernist façade for the London Assembly. The building alone is impressive, a geometrical masterpiece designed by architect Sir Norman Foster (who also designed the nearby Gherkin) and featuring eco-friendly natural ventilation, lighting movement sensors and solar panelling, as well as a dramatic transparent spiral stairwell that dominates the interior and climbs all ten stories.

The landmark building now not only serves as the official headquarters of the Mayor of London, but as a public exhibition and meeting space, including an open-air observation deck and free Wi-Fi to all visitors.

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National Portrait Gallery
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From legendary royals to pop culture icons and famous public figures; strolling the halls of the National Portrait Gallery is like taking a walk through British history. There are works dating from as early as the 13th century; Tudor portraits including Sir Thomas Cromwell, Richard III and Henry VIII, along with his six wives; and Victorian-era portraits of Queen Victoria, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde and the Brontë sisters. The modern era is well represented too, including royals like Diana Princess of Wales and the Duchess of Cambridge, actors like Alan Rickman and Helen Mirren, and instantly recognizable faces like The Beatles, Richard Branson and J.K.Rowling.

Opening its doors in 1856, the National Portrait Gallery was the first of its kind in the world and it’s now home to the world’s biggest portrait collection, featuring over 11,000 works.

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The Gherkin
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17 Tours and Activities

Affectionately nicknamed ‘The Gherkin’ for its unusual shape, the dazzling glass-fronted skyscraper, 30 St Mary Axe, is among London’s most distinctive landmarks, looming 180 meters over the City of London financial district. Largely regarded as a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, the award-wining design was the work of Norman Foster and the Arup Group, and includes energy-conserving features like spiraling light wells and ventilation shafts.

The now-iconic office building opened its doors on 28 April 2004 and today is home to companies like Swiss Re and Sky News, as well as hosting London’s highest private members’ club on its top floor, and occasionally pop-up restaurants and bars, taking advantage of the magnificent 360-degree views.

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Diana Memorial Fountain
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Few British royals were as universally adored as Princess Diana, the affectionately nicknamed ‘People’s Princess’, and the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain is just one of the many tributes and memorials erected in her name after her untimely death back in 1997.

Opened by Her Majesty The Queen in 2004, the unique water feature is the design of Kathryn Gustafson and represents Diana’s life, quality and openness, a continuous circle of flowing water, crafted from Cornish granite and crossed by three bridges. The memorial fountain lies on the route of the Princess Diana Memorial Walk, an 11km circular trail running through five of London’s royal parks and linking sights like Kensington Palace, Buckingham Palace and the Princess Diana Memorial Playground.

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London Film Museum
6 Tours and Activities

The London Film Museum, tucked away in a quiet part of Covent Garden, was founded and created by Jonathan Sands in 2008 following the success of Star Wars, the Exhibition. It is entirely dedicated to the British film industry and hosts regular, big-ticket film-themed exhibitions featuring original props, costumes and sets of all kinds. Past exhibitions include Bond in Motion, Charlie Chaplin - The Great Londoner and Ray Harryhausen, Myths & Legends.

The museum was once voted the best family attraction in Britain by the Telegraph. It also features a permanent exhibition (50 percent of which is from Sands’ personal collection) which contains cinema artefacts, photography, films and multimedia tools, taking visitors on a journey through the history of the seventh art, the democratization of its techniques and the story behind today’s blockbusters.

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More Things to Do in London

Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum

Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum

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Known to many as the home of the most famous tennis tournament in the world, the Wimbledon grounds also house the world’s largest tennis museum. Numerous onsite galleries and exhibitions allow visitors to experience the evolution of the famous sport.

The collection of tennis memorabilia contains artifacts dating back to 1555, as well as interactive multimedia such as touch screens, a 3D cinema and a holographic John McEnroe. Items on display include championship trophies, film and video footage, championship player mementos and the Wimbledon library. An interactive gallery called CentreCourt360 presents visitors with a viewing experience of Centre Court.

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Cenotaph

Cenotaph

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The Cenotaph is a war memorial that stands on Whitehall Street in central London. It began as a temporary structure built for a peace parade at the end of World War I and in 1920 was replaced by a permanent structure made of Portland stone. It is now considered the United Kingdom’s primary war memorial, also commemorating those killed in World War II and other wars in which Britons fought and died. King George VI unveiled the memorial for the second time in November 1946 following the end of World War II. The design of the Cenotaph has been replicated elsewhere in the U.K., as well as in Australia, Canada, Bermuda, Hong Kong and New Zealand.

Standing 35 feet high and weighing 120 tons, the memorial has the words “The Glorious Dead” inscribed on it twice. It is the site of the annual National Service of Remembrance, held on Remembrance Sunday, the Sunday closest to November 11.

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Royal Mews

Royal Mews

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Churchill War Rooms

Churchill War Rooms

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Part of London’s famous series of Imperial War Museums, the original Churchill War Rooms, set in the Prime Minister’s secret underground headquarters. The maze of rooms in the basement of a Whitehall building, initially set-up to protect key government figures from the Blitz bombings, were known as the ‘Cabinet War Rooms’ and became a vital center of operations from 1940 to 1945.

After the end of the war, the rooms remained secret until they were opened to the public in 1984 after restoration efforts by the Imperial War Museum. Today, the museum explores the life and legacy of Winston Churchill and includes stories, speeches, photos, video interviews and documents. Here, you can explore the main Cabinet War Room, the ‘Courtyard Rooms’, the ‘Bunker’ and the ‘Map Room’

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Leadenhall Market

Leadenhall Market

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One of London’s most atmospheric Victorian shopping arcades, Leadenhall Market has a history dating back to the 14th century, making it one of the capital’s oldest covered markets. Restored in the early 90s, the majority of Leadenhall’s current design dates back to 1881 and is the work of architect Sir Horace Hones - a striking mix of Portland stone pillars, gabled red brick entryways and exquisite paintwork, capped with dramatic glass and iron vaulted ceilings.

Today, Leadenhall hosts a small meat and fresh produce market during the week, but is best known for the many shops, cafes and restaurants that line its cobbled lanes, as well as making a popular stop for fans of the Harry Potter films – the distinctive arcade was famously immortalized on screen as Diagon Alley in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

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London Chinatown

London Chinatown

33 Tours and Activities

With its abundance of oriental restaurants, striking Paifangs (monumental archways) and colorful lanterns swaying in the wind, it’s easy to know when you’ve stumbled into London’s Chinatown. Located at the heart of Soho and a short stroll from Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus, it serves as a popular route for walking tours, as well as being one of the top destinations for eating out in the city. London’s Chinatown dates back from the 20th century, but was originally based in Limehouse in the East End, only moving to its current location in the 1970s. Today, the main thoroughfare is Gerrard Street, on and around which dozens of Asian restaurants can be found, including Japanese sushi bars, Korean eateries and traditional teahouses, as well as a number of Chinese supermarkets, reflexology and massage parlors, and Chinese medicine practitioners. The lively district is most atmospheric after dark, but the best time to visit is during the annual Chinese New Year celebrations.

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West End Theater District

West End Theater District

29 Tours and Activities

Equally as renowned as New York’s Broadway Theater District, London’s West End is widely acclaimed for its award-winning theater productions and vast variety of shows and musicals. Seeing a ‘West End Show’ is a popular pastime for tourists and locals alike, with regular performances of a number of world renowned titles like Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats, The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, Blood Brothers and many award-winning film actors from both England and the United States choosing to take to the West End stages. Recent hits like The Lion King, Mamma Mia! and We Will Rock You, have helped increase West End visitors to over 13 million annual show-watchers.

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St. Katharine Docks

St. Katharine Docks

25 Tours and Activities

The St Katharine Docks are located in the London district of Tower Hamlets. These docks were once the commercial docks serving the north side of the River Thames east of the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge. Today the docks serve as a yachting marina, and the area has been turned into an urban living and leisure area. There are public and private housing options, office buildings, a large hotel, retail shops, restaurants, pubs, and other recreational facilities.

Several commuter river boats, river ferries, and scenic river cruises pass St Katharine Docks and stop at St Katharine Pier. The area also hosts special events throughout the year. There is a food market every Friday from 11am to 3pm featuring local and international food options. Occasionally there is a cinema at sea event. The docks also host clipper races and boating festivals.

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Golden Hinde

Golden Hinde

19 Tours and Activities

Few historic ships can boast of voyages as great as the Golden Hinde, whose round-the-globe expedition between 1577 and 1580, captained by Sir Francis Drake, was one of the great journeys of the Elizabethan era.

Today, a full sized reconstruction of the iconic ship, originally called the ‘Pelican’ and renamed the Golden Hinde mid-voyage, stands at Bankside along the River Thames, offering visitors the chance to step onboard and learn about the galleon’s great adventures. As well as peeking into the cabins and engine room, costumed actors and interactive tours allow visitors to discover the life of a Tudor sailor, and it’s even possible to help raise the anchor and fire the guns.

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Smithfield Market

Smithfield Market

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Today one of the largest wholesale meat markets in all of Europe, Smithfield Market has been buying and selling meat and poultry for over 800 years. Also known as London Central Markets, this is the largest historic market still standing in the City of London.

Early risers can still witness some of Britain’s finest meats being hand-picked by London restaurateurs, or purchase their own meats, poultry, olive oils and cheese. The structure itself is known for its bright colors and Victorian architecture, and many visitors combine their visit to the market with a stop at one of the trendy Farringdon-area restaurants.

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Banqueting House

Banqueting House

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The Banqueting House is nothing short of one of London’s finest establishments; it is, in fact, the only remaining component of the Palace of Whitehall –the main residence of London-based English monarchs between 1530 and 1698, including prominent members of the Tudor and the Stuart families like Bloody Mary and Henry VIII. At 1500 rooms and 23 acres in surface, it had grown to be the largest royal palace in Europe before it was destroyed by fire.

The Banqueting House actually played a significant role in English history: it is where King Charles I’s was executed and where the Declaration of Rights was read to new King and Queen William and Mary, before it was granted to the Royal United Service Institute for use as a museum by the philanthropic Queen Victoria in the late 1800s.

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Fortnum & Mason

Fortnum & Mason

15 Tours and Activities
Standing proud on Piccadilly since 1707, Fortnum & Mason, along with the equally famous Harrods, takes the prize for London’s best-known and most iconic department store. Named after its principal proprietors William Fortnum and Hugh Mason, the central London store is now owned by Wittington Investments Ltd, but its namesakes still grace the iconic rooftop clock – with four-foot high mechanical statues of the men themselves whirring into action as the clock chimes each hour. Belying its early incarnation as a simple grocery store, Fortnum’s soon earned a reputation for selling the highest quality foods and imported delicacies to London’s high society, even supplying food for a number of Victorian era Royal functions. Today, the variety has expanded but the quality remains top notch, with their luxury Christmas and picnic hampers - a renowned tradition dating back to Victorian times – ranging in price from a very reasonable £35 to a mind-blowing £25,000.
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Clink Prison Museum

Clink Prison Museum

15 Tours and Activities
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Old Royal Naval College

Old Royal Naval College

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The grand focal point of the Maritime Greenwich UNESCO World Heritage site, the Old Royal Naval College (ORNC) is an impressive architectural feat, stretching along the banks of the River Thames. Originally designed as a Royal Naval Hospital, the ORNC was the work of legendary architect Sir Christopher Wren (whose other masterpieces include St Paul’s Cathedral) and was built on the site of the Greenwich Palace, the birthplace of Henry VIII.

The magnificent classical buildings, with their twin domes, striking colonnaded façade and vast lawns now serve as the dramatic centerpiece of Greenwich and offer a fascinating introduction to the neighborhood for visitors. Highlights of a visit include the Discover Greenwich Visitor Centre, where exhibitions are devoted to the ORNC and Greenwich’s maritime heritage; Sir James Thornhill’s spectacular Painted Hall; and the neo-classical style Chapel of St Peter and St Paul.

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